Christian leaders issue statement on House budget

From Episcopal News Service:

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold joined the leaders of four other Christian denominations today in a statement calling on members of the House Budget Committee to “eliminate the inequities in its federal budget and instead act to pass a budget that meets the moral test of serving ‘the common good.’”

The statement, written in the context of the Lenten season, examines the President’s FY ‘07 federal budget proposal which caps annual spending, resulting in $212 billion in cuts over five years in non-defense related discretionary spending, according to the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations in Washington.

This is the second year in a row that the leaders of the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, and United Church of Christ have called on Congress to reject a federal budget that cuts programs that serve the working poor, children and the elderly.

Under the President’s FY ‘07 budget, programs that are at risk for substantial cuts include Food Stamps, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Pell Grants, Child Care, International HIV/AIDS funding, and environmental protection.

Earlier this month the Senate rejected some of President Bush’s proposed cuts in domestic discretionary spending, including cuts to Medicare. The House Committee on the Budget begins its work with a number of moderate Republican members of Congress calling on the committee to adopt a similar approach to the Senate.

All members of the House Budget Committee received the leaders’statement in advance of today’s session.

The text of the statement follows:

March 29, 2006

Dear Members of the Budget Committee:

We are pleased to send you, as members of the House Committee on the Budget, this statement regarding the FY ’07 Federal Budget. We are leaders of five Protestant denominations representing close to 20 million Americans who believe in the Biblical imperative to care for the “least of these.”

Last year we spoke out throughout the Congressional budget process, explaining our view that the nation’s budget is a moral document that should reflect our values and thus be viewed through the lens of faith. We began the year by remembering the Biblical story of Lazarus in which Jesus makes clear that perpetrating economic injustice is among the gravest of sins. We prayed that the vivid acknowledgement of poverty in America seen in pictures from the hurricanes and numbers from the US Census Report on poverty would significantly change the budget. Ultimately we thanked those in both political parties who sought to prevent those living in the margins of society from bearing the greatest burden and we noted with appreciation that the Food Stamp Program was spared from cuts. However, we urged Congress to defeat the final legislation as it perpetrated injustice on the most vulnerable.

This year we again raise our voices of concern as Congress begins the budget process anew. It does so as Christians observe the holy season of Lent when individually and together as communities of faith we go “into the wilderness” recognizing the disorder in our personal and collective lives and seeking transformation. Our faith lens is perhaps clearest during Lent, and we ask you to join us in again looking at the federal budget not as an amalgam of numbers but as amoral document that should represent the best efforts of our government to address those who are most vulnerable and to protect God’s creation.

As people of faith we must speak with and for the most vulnerable as their voices are least often heard in the corridors of Washington. We recognize that government must provide security and protection, but experience shows us that it is often injustice that makes us most vulnerable. We see clearly that again this year there is economic injustice and an indifference to those most in need. This budget not only continues the trend of last year in cutting programs for those most vulnerable but contains even greater cuts in the years to come. Holding up our faith lens we find:

Treatment of children: Domestically, the President’s budget cuts education funds as well as funds to states for special programs for children with disabilities. Internationally, it cuts programs for child survival and health.

Treatment of women: The President’s budget cuts international family planning and domestically cuts the WIC program.

Treatment of working families: The President’s budget cuts Food Stamps for working families and funding for child care assistance for low-income working families, and for families in which a parent is in a welfare-to-work program.

Treatment of the elderly: The President’s budget cuts housing for the elderly and cuts block grants that provide funds for those needing nutritional assistance and who are vulnerable to abuse. Treatment of God’s creation: The President’s budget cuts funding from programs for clean and safe water projects.

Treatment of those suffering from HIV/AIDS: The President’s budget cuts funding to the most effective multinational global program for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Treatment of development assistance: The President’s budget reduces traditional international development assistance and the Community Development Block Grant program for affordable housing and public infrastructure projects.

We call upon our government to eliminate the inequities in its federal budget and instead act to pass a budget that meets the moral test of serving “the common good.” During Lent we emphasize the practice of three disciplines – prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, that is “sharing our bread with the hungry.” That discipline is practiced throughout the year as individually, as churches, and as our larger institutions do our part to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. We acknowledge with sadness that the needs are far greater than even our most charitable response.

For Christians, Lent is a time when we willingly go into the darkness of the wilderness in order to more fully experience the light and renewal of Easter. We remember the words of Isaiah 58 – “if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness.” We pray that during this budget process, light will indeed rise and that Congress will not only remember the hungry and afflicted but will respond to them with justice and fairness for all.

Signed by:

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

The Reverend Mark S. Hanson

Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Reverend Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick

Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.)

The Reverend John H. Thomas

General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Bishop Beverly Shamana

President of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society

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